HRI’s First Chair, Dr. Richard McLaughlin, to Retire in January
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Dr. Richard McLaughlin, Chair for Marine Policy and Law, was the first chair hired to join the staff at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI) in 2005, and “Ed’s favorite chair,” said HRI Associate Director Gail Sutton, referring to the institute’s namesake and founder, Corpus Christi newspaper magnate Ed Harte. While it was a relatively new concept at the time, Harte was excited about the idea of bringing in a policy expert first to create a new kind of marine research institute on the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi campus, one that considered the social aspects of marine environmental issues to make a real-world impact.
After 15 years of service, McLaughlin will retire from his position at HRI on January 15, 2021. HRI honored the chair at a socially distanced gathering at the institute Monday, December 7, 2020.
It might seem strange to some that a lawyer would play an essential role in building one of the largest marine research institutes focused on the Gulf of Mexico, but McLaughlin is part of what makes the culture at HRI so unique.
“I always thought of Rich and I as the bookends to the institute,” said HRI Senior Executive Director Dr. David Yoskowitz, an economist who was hired as the institute’s sixth and final founding chair, occupying its Chair for Socio-Economics. “Together we brought the human dimensions of research to the institute, and he and I both felt a deep commitment and need to prove up the worth of including this work in our institute’s model.”
Before coming to HRI, McLaughlin spent 18 years as a professor of law at the University of Mississippi School of Law. There he taught and researched in a variety of legal areas including property law, admiralty law, international trade law, and environmental law. But McLaughlin said his passion always lay in ocean and coastal law, especially international law of the sea.
“Rich McLaughlin was the original HRI chair and he set a high bar all those who followed,” said former Senior Executive Director Dr. Larry McKinney, who now serves as the institute’s Chair for Gulf Strategies. “Rich has been the respected conscience of our enterprise. As an attorney who could have done anything he wanted I am happy he chose us and the Gulf of Mexico as his focus. All of us who depend on the Gulf and live around it are better off for his dedication and passion.”
McLaughlin was invited to apply to the newly created Chair for Marine Policy and Law by the late Dr. Wes Tunnell, a member of HRI’s founding team, architect of HRI’s mission and vision, and the former associate director. McLaughlin confessed he wasn’t sure about uprooting his career at first, but he was intrigued by the idea of an interdisciplinary marine research institute focused on the Gulf.
“(HRI’s) desire to become a multi-disciplinary institute working toward finding solutions to improve the sustainable management of the Gulf of Mexico closely aligned with the research I was doing at the University of Mississippi,” McLaughlin said. “The fact that a centerpiece of their mission was to bring the three nations surrounding the Gulf together to deal with issues collaboratively was tremendously exciting to me. After meeting Wes, TAMUCC’s President and HRI’s founding Director, Dr. Robert Furgason, Ed Harte, and others associated with HRI, I immediately knew that I needed to become a part of their vision and after being offered the job moved to Corpus Christi in the summer of 2005.”
McLaughlin said some of the highlights of his time at HRI include organizing major meetings and conferences, including: the Law of the Sea Institute Conference on the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean; the International Conference on Sea Level Rise; and the Symposium on Improving Cooperation for a Sustainable Gulf of Mexico After the 2014 Mexican Energy Reforms, which brought together regulators from the United States and Mexico to discuss how to better manage offshore oil and gas development in transboundary areas of the Gulf.
McLaughlin is also well-known as an educator on the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMUCC) campus, teaching his popular annual course in Coastal Management and Ocean Law, and serving on the doctoral and master’s degree committees of over 30 students.
“Training students to better understand how policies and laws impact the environmental and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico has also been very important to me during my fifteen years here,” McLaughlin said. “More than 200 graduate students have taken my course and, as a consequence, will move into their professional careers more sensitive and knowledgeable about important legal and policy issues that affect how our coastal and ocean areas are protected and managed.”
McLaughlin has also helped to supervise student mentorship and training programs while at TAMUCC, serving as the institutional principal investigator for one of the institute’s largest grants, NOAA’s Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems (CCME), which provides underrepresented students in the marine-related sciences with full funding to complete their doctoral and master’s level degrees. Since the program’s inception in 2016, it has provided funding for tuition, living expenses, travel, and research for 17 TAMUCC students. HRI Hydro-Ecology Chair Dr. Paul Montagna will take over leadership of that program after McLaughlin retires.
McLaughlin has also led HRI’s unique Student Workshop on International Coastal and Marine Management (SWIMM), which brings 18 students from Cuba, Mexico and the United States together each year to engage in a 10-day field-intensive workshop in one of the three nations. The goal of the program is to encourage personal and professional collaboration between these international student leaders as they collaborate on a project together. HRI Associate Research Scientist Dr. Mark Besonen, who has co-coordinated SWIMM, will take over as director.
McLaughlin said he was proud of the time he spent at HRI serving in his role as a policy expert among scientists, and felt he made a difference as a respected member of the team — though he won’t miss the lawyer jokes made at his expense.
“Culminating my career at HRI has been a joy,” McLaughlin said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of professional colleagues and personal friends. In retirement, I plan to return to HRI frequently to continue to work with students and collaborate on various projects.”